Monday, 7 July 2008

All in the family

One of the first rules of rhetoric, of course, is to Know Your Audience. (Not to be confused with other rules handed down by the Ancient Greeks, such as: Know Thyself; Know That You Know Nothing; Know Doubt - the motto of the Skeptics - and Know, Know, Know, Know, There's No Limits, the educational philosophy which made growing up as a young Spartan male such a laugh riot.) But the converse to this rule is that we the Audience can Know our Speaker by paying attention to who he thinks he's talking to.

For example, take George Osborne's recent efforts on his latest wheeze, the Fuel Duty Stabiliser. A radical and timely proposal for change, but who's it for? Well, obviously the entire citizenry of the UK will be swept over the Jordan into the land of milk and honey, but who does George particularly want to impress with this one? Let's have a look at the consultation document (pdf):

I understand that the cost of living is currently the number one concern for Britain’s families. That’s why I believe that it’s vital to take forward our green agenda in a way that strengthens family finances.

Any reform should help families when the cost of living is rising.

The Fair Fuel Stabiliser would bring three key benefits:
1. It would increase the stability of family finances.

Under the current system, instead of cushioning the blow and helping families to cope, the government adds to the rising cost of living.

...a time when family finances have been under pressure.

The impact on family budgets has been considerable.

A policy that reduced the sensitivity of inflation to oil prices would make the job of the Monetary Policy Committee easier at the same time as helping families plan their finances.

Any reform should help families when the cost of living is rising.

If you're single (and the fact that you're reading this blog leaves that question entirely up in the air) you probably noticed a pattern there. (If you're a haulier, you probably noticed a glaring absence.) It's not just the written language either - watch Osborne here and marvel at how naturally he does it while speaking. (Wind forward to 6.16 to both save time and avoid the rising urge to punch the screen)

I don't know what the young, the widowed, the divorced, the "empty nesters", the gays, the co-habiting, the infertile, the career-focused or the simply unattractive did to earn the contempt of the Conservative Party but they have it in spades. Tories' regard and affection is reserved for families.

Why? Well, I'm not privy to Conservative Party Rhetorical Training Guidelines but here are some options:
  1. Availability heuristic: they're all family men, so they unconsciously use the arguments and language that would persuade them if they were the audience.
  2. Naked electoral strategy: they've worked out that families are more likely to switch votes than pensioners or the young and single.
  3. They're playing sweet music on their dogwhistle: "family" is code for "deserving people who look like me and have similar problems affording both school fees and three holidays a year" or "not chavscum" if you're being pithy.*
  4. Ever since Michael Howard gave comics and sketchwriters an easy laugh by referring to "pipple", the plural of "person" has been written out of Tory speechwriters' dictionaries.
Be it some, all or none of the above, I can only recommend to those of you predicting a Tory government in the near future that you act in your own best interests and get (someone) impregnated pronto.

*which, clearly, I'm not

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